Judge Clark Douglas' work as a writer is only part of his witness protection cover.
His way or Norway.
"Let's just chalk this up to cultural differences."
Facts of the Case
When New York mobster Frank Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt, The Sopranos) realizes that his life is in danger, he goes to the FBI, rats out his assorted mob associates and enters the witness protection program. His new home: Lillehammer, Norway (which Frank pronounces "Lilyhammer"). Frank is now posing as Giovanni Henriksen, a former restaurateur with dreams of opening a bar. His initial intention is to lay low and start life as a peaceful civilian, but it doesn't take long for Frank to get tired of operating under the restrictive rules of society. Before long, he's starting up a brand-new operation of sorts, in addition to romancing a local woman (Marian Saastad Ottesen) and attempting to stay below the radar of the police chief (Anne Krigsvoll).
In 2013, Netflix made a valiant effort to change the very definition of "television." With high-profile, critically-acclaimed series like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and the fourth season of Arrested Development, Netflix made it clear that they expected to be taken as seriously as the likes of cable heavyweights like AMC, FX, Showtime and HBO. However, the company's experiment actually began in 2012, with the launch of the humble, quirky crime comedy series Lilyhammer. It's much smaller than most other Netflix originals, and there's reason it didn't earn a boatload of Emmy nominations, but it certainly has its charms.
Ridiculous as it may sound, the chief virtue of Lilyhammer is Steven Van Zandt's face. He frequently stole his scenes in The Sopranos, lurking in the background with that lower lip protruding ominously. This series tosses Van Zandt into the path of a wide variety of colorful characters and events, then quickly zooms in on his face for a host of priceless reaction shots. Like I said, a modest show. Still, I found myself having a rather good time with it, and there's just enough intriguing drama to keep you engaged for the duration of this eight-episode season.
While the show can be a bit too cutesy for its own good at times, it does a decent job of frequently reminding viewers that Frank isn't exactly a great guy. Sure, his mobster instincts are frequently used for laughs, but there are also moments in which Frank demonstrates a genuinely ugly side. It adds a welcome dose of discomfort to a show that occasionally flirts with turning into a mob-themed sitcom, and Van Zandt isn't afraid to make his character appear exceptionally unlikable. It's not quite the masterful blend of lovability and horror that The Sopranos perfected with its central character (granted, a blend that many 21st century shows have tried and failed to recreate), but it works well enough for Lilyhammer's purposes.
Intriguingly, the show is a Norwegian-American production, which airs on television in Norway just a bit before it premieres on Netflix in the U.S. Given that the two countries have different native languages, the show splits the language difference 50/50. Van Zandt almost always speaks English, but most of the other characters are subtitled (though they'll also occasionally break into English when speaking with Frank). It's an interesting approach, and the show is a huge hit in Norway despite the fact that it's a relatively minor show here.
Lilyhammer: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) offers a strong 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that highlights the show's exceptional location shooting. The series certainly has a strong sense of place, and the level of detail is strong throughout. Darker scenes benefit from considerable depth, and flesh tones are warm and natural. The series looks good via HD streaming on Netflix, of course, but the Blu-ray set is worth checking out if you're a big fan who needs that extra visual boost (or if you're not a Netflix subscriber, of course). The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio track is strong as well, delivering the flavorful score with immersive clarity and preserving the dialogue quite nicely. Supplements are limited to some concept art, outtakes and a 3-minute featurette on the making of the show's theme tune. It's disappointing that there isn't more on offer in this department, as a strong supplemental package would have given those who had already seen the show more incentive to purchase this set.
Lilyhammer isn't essential viewing, but it's a fun fish-out-of-water tale that puts Van Zandt's talents to good use.
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